Baseball: Utes Looking To Get Back On Track Following Weekend Series Loss

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Utah knew that keeping up momentum from the program’s best-ever start to Pac-12 play would be no easy task moving forward in one of the country’s top-tier conferences. But after losing four of their last five games, including two disappointing losses to in-state rivals, the Utes are aiming to get back on course.

Following a mostly lackluster slate of non-conference games in the beginning of the season, the Utes really hit their stride at the beginning of Pac-12 play, going 7-2 with series wins against Oregon, Arizona and Arizona State — earning the resurgent Utes their first-ever tie for the No. 1 spot in the conference standings, a position they still narrowly hold after losing two games to USC this weekend.

Coaches believe the team’s recent losses aren’t indicative of the team’s capabilities and that their most recent win Sunday against USC shows that the team still has plenty of fight left in them for the remainder of the season.

“We played well on Friday and Saturday but came up short,” said Utah head coach Bill Kinneberg. “Winning the game Sunday, I was really proud of the way the guys battled back and got the job done. That was huge — maybe the biggest win we’ve had all year.”

With the exception of that 14-8 comeback victory in the series finale against the Trojans, in which the Utes exhibited their usual flair and tenacity, the Utes have looked like a remarkably different team in their last four losses.

“The Tuesday games, they’re disappointing to me. Last week against UVU, we were so emotionally and physically spent after playing Arizona that I’m not sure we could’ve beaten anybody, but UVU did play us well,” Kinneberg said. “As far as last night, BYU is a good team, but we did not pitch well early in the ball game, and it put us behind.”

The hallmark of Utah’s success in recent play has been stout pitching — a number of solid performers on the mound have done well for the Utes, and pitcher Jayson Rose even leads the Pac-12 with his 59 strikeouts on the season. But in the last several games, the Utes have been besieged by inconsistencies and bad innings.

In the second game against USC and in its most recent outing down in Provo, Utah kept the game close but fell victim to error-ridden single innings, allowing four runs in the fifth inning against the Trojans and falling nine runs behind against the Cougars.

Even at the plate, where the Utes have relied on some clutch late-game performances to lead them to victory against Pac-12 opponents, Utah has come up dry. In the series opener with USC, the Utes managed to out-hit their opponent 11-5 but left 13 runners on base, and in the second game, the team accounted for just five hits. On Tuesday, Utah continued to lack production, only racking up three hits in the 14-3 loss to BYU.

But if there was a glimmer of hope for the Utah offense these last two weeks, it came in the form of a tremendous performance that showcased nine hits, two home runs and a grand slam from senior Cody Scaggari during the win against USC.

With the team’s first NCAA Regional Appearance since joining the Pac-12 a distinct possibility, and half a season left to play, there’s no shortage of motivation and opportunity for this year’s team to grab a hold of.

“I think Sunday’s game got us more energized. As far as knowing the character of our team, that really showed,” Kinneberg said.

Any theory on whether the team’s success has plateaued or just hit a temporary snag due to some tough road games will be put to the test when Utah hosts UC Riverside in a three-game series this weekend, and then with home matchups against conference powerhouses Oregon State and UCLA in the upcoming two weeks.

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